Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Publication Blues or Entrepreneurial Opportunity? The Road to Self-Publishing

When I started writing my novel, my concept for getting the book published was, at best, unfinished.  I had the usual vague thoughts of submitting to a bevy of agents and then finding a publisher.  As the book progressed, so did my nascent understanding of the world of publishing.  And right now, it is very apparent that publishing is undergoing a sea change.

Publishing is a 19th century endeavor seemingly being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

The fundamentals of the process haven't changed: writers still write; agents represent & sell; publishers edit, fix, design, market & publish; and readers purchase or borrow & read, however the model is in the violent throes of being torn apart bodily and re-built.

The value chain for publishing is evolving.  Technology and the electronic revolution have shattered existing traditional models like Humpty Dumpty toppling off the wall.  Humpty is not getting put back together again, rather, he is going bionic.

The advent of digital publishing is a key element, facilitating a new form of portable, low-cost readers and smart-phone apps that allow almost zero-cost for reproduction of a digitized work.  All the sunk costs, physical constraints and weight inherent in a printed book have been hacked away in a shower of pixels.

But the real revolutionary change isn't found in just the format. Traditional distribution channels and controls have also been torn asunder, with Internet-based digital distribution of content allowing for a profound shift in the revenue streams, reach and power structure of the publishing industry.

What that will end up looking like I haven't a clue, but as a neophyte writer, the opportunities that these technology changes offer have a clarion siren call.

E-publishing, also called variously self-publishing and artisan publishing, offers a fresh paradigm for writers, along with a new set of obstacles and challenges.  Self-publishing provides writers with digital tools that essentially move self-publishing out of the expensive "vanity press" model of the past and into an affordable "turnkey" operation of the future, albeit with its own complexities and learning curve.

The barriers between writer and reader have never been lower.

One critical issue for writers is that diving into the new model of self-publishing pushes a significant portion of the assumed risk and the workload back onto the writer.  In traditional publishing models, writers still carry the weight and investment of time and effort of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) in creating their work. The risk assumption inherent in creation of the physical book & distribution of that book - costs, editing, design, printing, promotion, distribution to stores etc. - were previously assumed by the publisher.  If a book flopped, a publisher could be out a significant investment, so the majority of publishers put some investment in the product to insure it met acceptable minimal levels of quality.  With self-publishing, that risk - and inherent production/distribution costs - are now assumed by the writer.

Self-published writers are now an entrepreneurial model of publishing.  They control all aspects of their product, the end quality of the work and how it arrives with readers.  They are responsible for decisions around writing, editing, layout, design, covers, pre-publication promotion, distribution, formats, pricing, revisions etc.  They own their product and they own their business, for good or ill.  At the end of the day, the writer becomes responsible for the reader's experience.

It can be a daunting task.  No one can be an expert at everything and so the spin-off opportunities for services are already underway.  "Booktrepreneurs" can source editing, design, marketing assistance, PR, or distribution through a broad range of freelancers and turnkey operations with multiple packages for all levels.

The issue for writers is that this requires additional resources - time and money, the twin demons of every business.  If you choose to self-publish, you need to determine how much time & money you are willing to invest in your success.  Quality product requires an investment.  And this increases the risk that you may not succeed.  Costs are now unloaded onto the writer and self-publishing generally doesn't provide a fat advance to cushion the risk (although more and more, neither do traditional publishers).

The fruit of this choice is evident in any browse through Amazon's Kindle store.  There are more than a million e-publications available, thousands of them available as free downloads or for a mere $.99.  Self-publishing thus is a double-edged sword.  Yes, technology has opened up the world for anyone with a computer to write, publish and distribute with minimal resource & time outlays, but at the same time the barriers to entry that traditional publishing imposed, served to sift and winnow the vast array of printed chaff for quality writing, for commercial viability, for originality, product quality and the list goes on.

The Kindle store can be a vast universe of poorly edited, badly written works that have been thrown up for download.  In this maelstrom, how do you as a writer make your work stand out?  How do you manage your risk?  How do you effectively price your work when your competition is basically free?

How to make your work stand out? The same way publishers have always made specific works stand out - building market awareness & visibility through marketing, advertising, publicity & promotion.  As a self-publishing "Booktrepreneur" you will need to assess your time, your resources, and most importantly your return on the marketing you will do.  Social media, linking into reader communities for your specific genre, developing and requesting reviews are probably the better low cost approaches. 

How do you manage your risk? The same way any entrepreneur does - on the basis of risk, reward and what is an acceptable balance for you in your endeavors.  It will vary for everyone, dependent on their circumstances.

How do you effectively compete or price your work when your competition is basically free? The same way any business in a commoditized competitive market does - you change the game and compete on something other than price.

Competing on price is a poor choice.  No matter what you do, if you are trying to price match in this highly commodotized marketplace you will find that you are forced to drive your price down to the lowest common denominator.  It is very hard to make much of a margin on "free", unless your books are just a corollary of what you are selling (i.e. you have a free ebook that helps sell your consulting services).

So how can you compete on other factors?  Right now there are dozens of models being experimented with and tried across the marketplace including: genre-specific approaches, serialization, subscription, bundling with other authors, and customization.  Short stories & novellas are becoming more viable and are probably more supportable at a $.99 price point for the shorter time to write and the lower resource costs to roll them out.  Leveraging a series strategy or multiple-book strategy of low cost entry with higher cost follow-ups is one potential model.

Giving readers a quality reading experience and providing superlative writing and story is probably the single best point of differentiation for any writer. 

The Long Tail

One of the other advantages of "booktrepreneurship" is that you have the advantage of maintaining and building your presence and your work over time.  With publishers, a physical book that doesn't sell a specific number of copies in a set time frame, is bound for the remaindered bin or will drift out of print.  Self-published e-books have the ability to build an audience over time, unbound by the standard demands of market-driven investment.  It can take the time to find an audience and can develop over much longer, more patient time frames then the traditional market permits.

Self-publishing is not a magic bullet.  Currently print books still outstrip e-books in market share, reach, distribution, marketing and visibility.  However it does provide a tool that opens up enormous opportunities for writers to directly access their readership and the market, and is forcing a massive change into an industry that has been slow to grasp the implications of the digital revolution.

As for myself, I've decided to jump into the deep end of the pool.  I will be publishing my own novel online in 2014, using a Kickstarter in the next few weeks to raise funds for editing & cover design (My Kickstarter preview: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1678683250/397284808?token=7adc8cda).

Now I get to join the ranks of booktrepreneurs...

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